What if small towns offered free camping? 136

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Remember those carefree days when you could pull up somewhere, sleep for the night then fling open the door of your van and explore? What happened to those days?

While travelling in France a few years ago, we were astounded to find that dozens of small towns had dedicated “aires de camping-cars” that allowed travellers to park up – not in the outskirts in a showground but, more often than not, right in the heart of the town. 

The facilities ranged from none to a tap and somewhere to empty your toilet, and most were completely free. In the mornings, we’d rip open the door of the van and hop across the square into the local cafe and bakery for breakfast.

In three months, we stayed in lots of these aires de camping-cars, and we never left a place without spending at least a few dollars as thanks.

There are many things we can learn from the French – one is how to treat visitors. 

How many Australian towns out there are desperate for tourism? Could we not adopt something like the French approach that embraces travellers rather than charging them for a campsite or tucking them on the outskirts of town, making it far to easy to hit the road without spending a cent?

Jonathan Sri has recently discovered the joys of travelling in a campervan. “My partner and I have had the privilege of visiting many beautiful, forgotten places that rarely make it onto tourist brochures,” he writes in the Sydney Morning Herald.

“Sadly though, many of the beaches and rural towns that were magnets for the humble kombi in an earlier age are now prohibitive and unwelcoming to budget travellers. In some regions, councils waste thousands of dollars patrolling and enforcing bans against people sleeping in their vehicles, so rather than staying in town to swap stories with locals at the pub, we pass through in a hurry and spend the night at some roadside truckstop.”

“This is government over-regulation at its worst, and a lost opportunity for councils and small businesses. While we can’t afford to spend $30 a night to stay at the town caravan park, we’d probably spend a tenner at the local bakery or cafe and buy our groceries at the farmers’ market.

“More importantly, we would’ve had the time to connect meaningfully with these towns and learn something of their history and values. Budget travellers not only bring commerce. They contribute to a vibrant and cosmopolitan public sphere.”

Let’s talk: Do you think it would benefit both travellers and small towns if they offered free stopping areas for campervans and motorhomes? 

Starts at 60 Writers

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  1. Yep but the caravan park ( and there may only be one ) usually complains free camping does them out of business but if it brings people to town to enjoy and spend this is a great idea /

    1 REPLY
    • The caravan parks don’t miss out on their business because the were not going to stay in the cp anyway!! If they (we) can’t free camp near a town we just go to the next one that appreciates the value of the tourist dollar.

  2. After just driving to WA and back with just our car and a tent in the back from Qld the price of staying the night anywhere near facilities was very expensive. Yes we would have stayed longer to explore and spend money but just couldn’t afford it

  3. There is a small place out from Tamworth NSW that has free camping / there’s a small hotel a shop and I often see campers there / this is money this area wouldn’t have gotten as people probably wouldn’t have bothered to pull up and went on to Tamworth one way or Armidale the other direction / it’s still in the Tamworth area but a small village of its own

    2 REPLY
  4. A catch 22. Situation. The caravan park in town, would rightfully object. Afterall they are a business. We free camp and go into. a caravan park once a week. To do washing and fill up with water. Couldn’t afford to stay in parks every night

    1 REPLY
    • Not all caravan parks are negative: in Julia Creek they encourage the free campers in to have a shared meal every Monday night, Consequently we stay at the van park as a token of thanks before leaving town:-)

  5. Kilcoy Qld already has this. Come visit.

    4 REPLY
    • If you come into town from the east across Kilcoy creek bridge, it is immediately on the right. There is also an overflow area and the showgrounds is very reasonably priced at $16. It’s all in the Camps magazine and has been declared RV friendly by the CMCA.

    • Will do; have marked it in my book. 🙂

      1 REPLY
      • Kilcoy is wonderful. We have spent many a night at the free camping on the way to or from the Woodford Folk Festival. We spend money in town picking up groceries and at the bottle shop. We have also had a few meals at the local pub. If there was only a caravan park we would not have stayed.

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